Buyer, Beware: 5 Home-Buying Negotiation Tactics That Can Backfire

There’s no denying that buying a home is a costly endeavor—in fact, it’s likely the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make.

So it makes sense to try to negotiate where you can. Save a few bucks here, get a few things thrown in there, right? We hear ya—we’re all about making a smart offer that doesn’t leave you house-poor.

But when it comes time to negotiate, there are a few strategies you should avoid, lest you risk offending the seller and losing your shot at your dream home. This is especially true in a red-hot seller’s market, where the seller might have a number of tempting offers and is looking for anything that breaks the tie.

Of course, the key to smart negotiating is having the right team in place to advocate for you without alienating the other party. Sellers (and their agents) might be reluctant to deal with you if your agent is perceived as being difficult or—worse—shady, says Cara Ameer, a Realtor® in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. And if a seller is dealing with multiple offers, that could be enough to get you sent to the bottom of the pile. So find out the word on the street about your agent by talking to people you trust.

And then help your agent help you into a great home by not trying to pull off one of these misguided maneuvers.

1. Making a lowball offer

How low can you go? That seems to be the game some buyers play, assuming that if they start really low, they’ll end up getting the house for a song.

Gary Lucido, president of Chicago-area firm Lucid Realty, says that buyer’s agents commonly dissuade their clients from this tactic because they fear it will “insult” the seller. But the problem might be bigger than just hurting someone’s feelings.

“The real issue in starting well below the market value is that it costs you credibility,” he says. “The seller either thinks you don’t know the market or you are looking to take advantage of someone, and in either case, they don’t want to deal with you.”

The bottom line: The seller has a number in mind, and whether you start at $1 or $300,000, it only matters if you can hit the seller’s lowest target selling price.

“You’re not going to lower their target by starting at a lower number,” Lucido says.

2. Asking for a bunch of add-ons

You’ve found a place that’s within your budget. What’s more, you’ve fallen in love with the home—and everything in it.

You might be feeling emboldened to ask for more than just the house, but you should resist that temptation, says Ameer. She’s seen buyers who think it’s a good idea to ask for furniture or appliances to be thrown in for free, or expect that the sellers will just leave their patio furniture because it “goes so well” with the house.

Apparently the adage “it doesn’t hurt to ask” doesn’t apply in this situation.

“Sellers become totally offended when you keep asking for more, and you risk alienating them,” Ameer says. “Even if they don’t like their patio furniture anymore, they’d typically rather sell it on Craigslist than leave it for a greedy buyer.”

Of course, you can always ask to buy their stuff—in that case, they’d probably be flattered!

3. Using the inspection as a renegotiation tool

So, your offer was accepted, but then you start to get cold feet and you subconsciously (or consciously!) start searching for flaws that you could use as leverage to lower the price.

“Most inspectors are going to find something to recommend—such as adding gutters, improving the drainage, or upgrading all the smoke detectors—but those aren’t repairs that the seller is responsible for,” Ameer says.

If the inspection turns up something major (like a cracked foundation), by all means that should be discussed. But you shouldn’t demand that the sellers fix every minor thing or lower their price.

“You can’t expect a perfect house,” Ameer says. “If you’re constantly nickel-and-diming the seller, they might decide you’re not someone they want to do business with.”

Mind you, the sellers generally can’t just back out because they’re unhappy, but if both parties are unable to come to an agreement regarding repairs, they can both decide to abandon the deal.

Remember how much you have already invested in the process, in terms of time and money, and be willing to let the little things go.

4. Negotiating with incremental amounts

Nobody wants to pay more than they have to for a home—why offer $350,000 when you could have it for $325,000? But if you engage in too much back-and-forth, you’ll risk alienating the seller. When buyers insist on making incremental counteroffers, they’re just giving sellers a chance to move on to the next buyer, says George Theodore, a senior real estate adviser in Miami.

So, for example, if you’re ultimately willing to go up $8,000, don’t make four additional offers of $2,000 each.

“This tactic just tires out both sides and prolongs the transaction since you usually give each party 48 hours to reply,” Theodore says. It “actually gets you nowhere tactically or psychologically.”

5. Making a ‘one-way offer’

Just as the seller has a target price in mind, you probably have a point at which you’ll be unwilling to budge. But one of the worst things you can do is advertise this to the seller.

Ameer calls this the “one-way offer,” where buyers dig in their heels and state right off the bat, “This is our offer, you have X amount of time to respond, and if you don’t take it, we’re moving on.”

“This just puts the seller on the defensive and usually is a path to a dead-end offer,” Ameer says.

It seems like an obvious no-no, right? Well, even in this red-hot seller’s market, Ameer has seen buyers push for this tactic despite her warnings—especially if the buyer is offering all cash, or if the property has been on the market for a while. She calls it the “seller-is-lucky-to-have-me syndrome.”

“Sometimes buyers have to try this tactic themselves to see how it really ends up before they decide to get with reality,” Ameer says.

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Livable Sheds: Silly Trend or Ultimate Hack?

Here’s how to talk yourself into (or out of) building a tricked-out shed.

So long, storage shed.

Homeowners across the country are converting these sheds into tricked-out spaces to play, entertain, and work in — complete with drywall, paint, furnishings, and even utilities.

Kind of hard not to want one once you see one. Admit it, you’re trying to figure out exactly where you’d put one, right? But are these picture-perfect livable sheds really worth your money and yard space? Here are a few questions and answers to help you figure that out.

Is the Cost of Building a Shed Worth It?

Let’s cut to the chase: Real estate experts agree the value of a livable shed is in the eye of the beholder — and that doesn’t necessarily translate into increased resale value.

“I’d put it in the category of a pool,” REALTOR® Micki Sanderson says of livable sheds in her Amherst, Mass., market. Add one for your own enjoyment, but don’t expect it to bring big bucks. She expects homeowners could recoup the cost to add electricity, but not plumbing, given the higher installation costs.

A shed’s resale value is limited, in part, because they are considered “outbuildings” or “accessory structures.” According to the American National Standards Institute’s appraising standards, used in most parts of the country, these detached spaces — and even beautifully appointed guest houses — are not calculated into a home’s “general floor area” of finished square footage.

But resale price is one thing. A great feature that helps seal the deal is another.

REALTOR® Diane Taillon in Ephraim, Wis., believes a livable shed can increase a home’s desirability — if framed as the spectacular boon it is.

“It definitely, in my opinion, helps sell homes. It’s an amenity that is so attractive,” she says. Staging a gardening shed as a she-shed helped her sell one home, and just describing the potential of a junk-filled shed was enough to sell another.

What Purpose Will Your Shed Serve?

Now that you know these vamped-up outbuildings probably aren’t going to pay for themselves, you might still really want one. And that’s when they offer the most value — when they make you happy.

Whether using it for working, reading, yoga, or artistic pursuits, a livable (or workable or playable) shed adds a new functionality to your home to help you enjoy it more, and use it more.

For artist Maria Varmazis, a studio shed provides an ideal sanctuary outside of her Boston home. Here, she can paint, make a mess, and not have to worry about cleanup before her cats find their way in — and it’s made her more productive.

“I’ve been able to do more work than I hoped,” Varmazis says. “Just having the studio there is motivation.”

How Much Do Livable Shed Kits Cost?

A very basic 10-by-10-foot engineered wood kit from a home improvement store runs about $900. And if you’re wanting things like extra windows, bigger doors, flower boxes, etc., you’ll pay more. While that may sound affordable, there are additional expenses that aren’t included.

What shed kits don’t include:

  • Permits
  • Foundation and flooring
  • Shingles
  • Drywall
  • Electricity
  • Insulation
  • Plumbing
  • Installation if you’re not DIYing it

A poured foundation will cost about $75 in materials, and if you hire someone to do it, they’ll charge up to a $100 an hour.

Electrical materials will cost around $150 to run a line from your house to a shed 50 feet away. But unless you have this specific skill set, you’ll need to call in an electrician. At $50 to $100 an hour, that brings the cost to $500 or more.

And if you’re looking to trick out your shed with a wet bar or convenient bathroom? Plumbing is an even more costly addition, starting at $1,000 to $1,500 just to run the supply and drain lines.

Watch out for your local laws, too. There could be some costs there in the form of permits, the type of materials that are permitted, etc. If you fail to check off all the necessary boxes, you could receive a fine — or, even worse, be forced to undo some or all of the construction.

How Much Can Be DIYed to Save Money?

The kits make it easy for even the most novice DIYers to do some of the work, which will knock down labor expenses.

Varmazis and her husband handled the permits and DIYed the interior of their shed to save money. But they paid a crew to erect their shed’s shell because they weren’t confident they had the skills to do it well.

You, on the other hand, might be able to rouse your carpenter-savvy friends into an old-fashioned barn-raising, and then pay a pro to make the inside look really sweet.

Is Your Climate Suitable for a Shed?

If you live in a severely cold climate, be honest with yourself about whether braving the elements will deter you from using your shed, and what it might cost you to make it truly livable in terms of building materials and utility bills, says Sanderson.

It’ll need a pitched roof as well as insulation, a source of heat and possibly double-pane windows to keep you from risking frostbite.

Also, know that most kits are built for more temperate climates. So if your home’s in a frigid climate, it may be best to consult with a local vendor that knows what materials your shed needs to keep you “living” in it.


Yikes! That Funky Smell Has Got to Go! Here’s How

Sometimes summer stinks – literally. Here’s how to keep gross smells out of your house.

When did hanging out on your patio with that privacy wall you DIYed back in May stop being fun? All you can see is that rusty grill staring at you, and bird poop piling up on your outdoor chaise while you sweat and fight off bugs. And, eeeew, what is that you smell? Summer’s great — but, boy, can it turn on you when the dog days set in.

Don’t start job hunting in Alaska just yet. You can take back your summer. Here’s the worst of what it can inflict on you (in no particular order) — and how to fight back:

A Stinky Bug Invasion

Squish a stink bug, and you’ll quickly learn how they got theirnom de pee-yew.While the brown pests may be harmless, your family’s noses will be happier without them.

  • Use caulk or sealant to close up cracks a sneaky stinker could use to enter your home. Look around windows, doors, vents and outdoor faucets for any openings.
  • Stick a nylon stocking over your vacuum’s hose to suck up stink bugs into the stocking instead of the vacuum bag.
  • Drown these nasty visitors by dumping captured ones into a bottle filled with an inch of soapy water. No tiny cement shoes necessary.

A Mildew-y Smell That Won’t Go Away

Hot, humid summers create an ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew, which your nose knows isn’t right. At the first whiff of these funky fungi, strike back hard.

  • Keep things clean and organized. It’s the best defense against summer’s musty aroma. That allows air to move around, keeping moisture (mold and mildew’s best mate) at bay.
  • Dry out your home with dehumidifiers and air conditioners — or at least increase air circulation by adding fans.
  • In rooms that tend to get that musty smell, line closet walls and drawers with cedar for a sweet smell all year long.
  • Waterproof your basement concrete and masonry with cement paint to prevent damp walls — and the sneaky mold that comes with them. But be sure to figure out the cause of the dampness before waterproofing. It only works if the moisture is coming from the soil outside.

A note of caution: Sometimes a musty smell is a harbinger of bad news — serious water damage in your home. If these tips don’t work, you may need to call in a pro.

Gross Garbage Funk

Summer’s heat waves make the stench of garbage 10 times worse. Keeping trash cans clean (duh) is your first line of defense. But there are a couple more things you can do.

  • Yes, scrubbing out your garbage can is disgusting, but it helps control the stink and pests. Give it one good clean when your stomach’s feeling strong, and then quickly wipe it out each time you empty. You’ll never have to face that throw-up smell again.
  • Dust the bottom of the clean, dry can with baking soda to suck up future pungency.
  • Or slip a dryer sheet or two underneath the bag when you change it out.
  • Cat litter in the bottom of the can also works to absorb garbage odors.

Excessive Bird Droppings

Not even the most dedicated bird watchers want to watch droppings accumulate on their porch and outdoor furniture.

The easiest and most humane solution is to install some yard art — the kind that moves or makes a racket. Think wind socks, chimes and fun whirly sun catchers.

If, however, the birds are barn swallows that have nested (you’ll know because their nests are made of mud instead of twigs), you mustn’t shoo them away, no matter how gently. Barn swallows are federally protected. Instead, install a flat board below it or place a newspaper on the ground to prevent droppings from ruining your porch. Then next year (because they will come back — and they will bring friends) install bird netting between your eaves and the side of your home before nests are built.

Rusty, Greasy Grill Grates

You never really got around to cleaning your grill at the beginning of the season, and now that you’ve invited some new work colleagues over for a barbecue, you realize your grill isn’t going to stir up any appetites with all that rust and grime.

  • Vinegar, baking soda, salt, and lemon juice are all natural rust eliminators. You can use individually or create a paste between wet and dry ingredients. Apply and let soak overnight. Then a little elbow grease should do the rest. Try these combinations: vinegar and baking soda; lemon juice and baking soda; or lemon juice and salt.
  • If the rust is really, really tough, do the above but get a wire brush attachment for your drill and use it to scrub the rust away.
  • Once clean, season the grates by rubbing with vegetable oil and heating them.

Uninvited Homesteaders

Snakes at the zoo: super cool. Snakes around or (gasp!) in your house: NO. NO. NOOOO. Snakes might be the worst intruder (or is it bats?), but any unwanted rodent or animal in your home is gross. Your best offense is defense. But if they break through, call a professional exterminator.

  • Cover holes more than a quarter of an inch wide (snakes don’t need much). Check behind gutters and roof flashing.
  • Trim trees to keep pesky animals, such as squirrels, from getting on your roof and into your attic. Keep branches at least eight feet from your house.
  • Eliminate any food sources — like a garbage bin with an askew lid — that might tempt a scavenging pest. The closer they are to your house, the more likely they are to find a way in.
  • Get rid of yard debris, such as piles of leaves and twigs, and mow frequently to eliminate hiding spots.
Article by JAMIE WIEBE

5 Reasons You’ll Regret Painting Your Brick House

The best paint for brick? No paint at all (in most cases). Here’s why.


Brick, brick, brick. All the homes in your neighborhood are brick. You’re itching to paint over that red-orange-brown color palette so your home’s personality can shine through.

Although painting brick is doable — and sometimes even necessary (more on that later) — it’s not an easy DIY paint project, and it can be a huge risk to your biggest financial asset.

In other words: Tread carefully, homeowner. Although painted brick might be aesthetically pleasing today, it could be a big, fat regret in just a few years.

Here are five reasons you shouldn’t paint brick (plus a few exceptions when it’s OK):

#1 You’ll Probably Destroy the Brick

Brick “breathes.” Unless it can’t. Trapped moisture is the main issue in the relationship between brick and paint. “Once you put a membrane [like paint] over the brick, it can no longer breathe,” says Mike Palmer, a masonry contractor and president of the upstate New York chapter of Mason Contractors Association of America.

Brick is the ultimate “coat” for your home, protecting it from all the elements while letting it breathe, too. Much like your beloved four-legged family member, your home’s “brick coat” adjusts as needed to protect your home from rain, sleet, snow, heat, etc. (but without all the shedding, ha!).

Putting paint on it is like encasing it in plastic. It’ll breathe no more.

#2 It Can Cause Serious Structural Damage

If you paint the exterior brick and there’s moisture trapped in it, “once you go through a freeze-and-thaw cycle, [the brick can] degrade as moisture freezes inside it,” Palmer says.

When exterior brick erodes — and if the mortar between the brick erodes — your home’s structural integrity is at risk.

#3 It Can Look Really Bad, Really Fast

As the bricks begin to degrade, the paint starts to peel and flake away — making your house look neglected and nasty. That’s bad news. Really bad news. That means the damage mentioned above is well under way — and it’s showing up on your home’s face.

#4 You Might Be Destroying a Bit of History

How old is your home’s brick? If your brick is considered historic, painting it could be considered a sin against history.

If you have an older home with decorative features, such as dog-toothing, you might have brick that should be preserved in its natural state.

“Old brick was handmade in a kiln, and some … has a harder surface. It weathers better, and was used on the face of buildings because it’s more impervious,” says architect Ashley Wilson with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Since today’s bricks are machine-made, these handmade varieties are worth preserving. Paint will only destroy their historic value, and if done incorrectly could result in structural damage to your home.

#5 You Can’t Easily Go Back to Unpainted

The time and money it takes (plus the risk to the brick’s integrity) to remove existing paint makes it a very challenging task. Power-washing or sandblasting can damage the brick, so it all has to be painstakingly stripped away using chemicals.

Technically, this is a chore you could do yourself, but do you really want to get to know every square inch of your entirehouse’s exterior? Even if it’s a little one?

As comedian Steven Wright used to joke, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.

4 Exceptions That Make It OK to Paint Brick

#1 If It’s Already Been Painted

Most painted brick needs regular repainting, and compared to removing the old paint, it’s typically the lesser evil. Just be sure to use the right paint.

The right paint to use for exterior brick:  Use a mineral-based paint or a silicate paint that’s designed to be breathable, and is recommended for brick, such as the brand KEIM.

Should you DIY it?The long and short of it is this: There is so much critical, tedious prep work required, like cleaning and repairing damage, you’re better off having it done by a professional. According to Homewyse, the average cost for a professional to paint your brick home is $1.70 to $3.27 per square foot. That adds up fast.

#2 If the Brick is Severely Damaged

Let’s say you’ve got an older home and the “the grout between the brick is old, and may have turned to sand,” says Chris Landis, partner/owner of Landis Architects/Builders, who sits on the board of Washington, D.C.’s, Historic Preservation Review Board. Painting could be the solution.

Sure, you could have the brick repointed (replacing/adding new mortar), but that can be costly — as much as $25 a square foot — depending on where you live and the degree of damage. (Cha-ching!)

If you try fixing it yourself, “You’ll likely get cement all over the brick, which is really messy. The best thing to do in that case is to actually paint it,” Landis says. Dried cement all over your brick isn’t a good look.

#3 If the Brick Was Meant to Be Painted

There’s a slim chance your home might have an old type of brick that actually needs to be painted to protect it. A few rules of thumb to help determine if that’s the case with your home’s brick:

  • It was built before 1870.
  • The brick was handmade, not machine-made.
  • It has traces of paint that looks faded or whitewashed.
  • The home lacks ornamental brick decoration.

The paint, however, for these bricks isn’t your typical latex paint. The paint must be all-natural, such as milk paint or lime-based whitewash. Modern paints will only damage the brick, potentially causing structural damage.

Because these bricks are more delicate, homes using them are less likely to have ornate brick architectural features such as dog-toothing. If you see features like those, then you have the more durable handmade bricks, which should never be painted.

#4 If the Brick is Inside

Indoor brick isn’t subject to harsh outdoor elements. If you were to paint your fireplace surround, for example, Palmer says you won’t have the issues of moisture and humidity. So have fun with it!


Chicken Gyros

Skip the takeout and make these easy, healthy gyros at home. Lean chicken breast is flavored with classic gyro seasonings and tucked into a whole-wheat pita with veggies and a cool tzatziki sauce. Look for tzatziki—Greek cucumber-yogurt sauce—near other prepared refrigerated dips like hummus and salsa.


  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut crosswise into ½-inch-wide strips
  • 1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 4 tablespoons tzatziki
  • 4 6-inch whole-wheat pitas, warmed


  • Prep – 35 m

  • Ready In – 55 m

  1. Combine lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in an 8-inch glass baking dish. Add chicken and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator, stirring once, for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  2. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler to high.
  3. Transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet. Broil on the upper rack until no longer pink in the middle, 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, combine lettuce, tomato and onion in a medium bowl.
  5. To serve, spread 1 tablespoon tzatziki on each warmed pita and top with the chicken and the salad.  

To make ahead: Marinate chicken (Step 1) for up to 2 hours.

8 Dumb Reasons People Can’t Buy a Home

Buying a home—especially if it’s your first—can be a lot like losing weight in the sense that people end up doing, well, some pretty dumb stuff in the process. But while desperate dieters might waste money on “magical” weight-loss pills or silly exercise equipment (remember the shake weight?), misguided home buyers could be doing far more serious damage—like undermining their ability to purchase a house at all. Don’t be one of them! We asked real estate agents to shed light on some of the dumbest reasons people can’t buy a home. The good news? These flubs are easily avoidable. Read on and beware.

Dumb reason No. 1: Waiting to line up financing

Your first step in the home-buying process should be to meet with a mortgage lender to discuss your financing options, says Benny Kang, a real estate agent in Irvine, CA.

“You don’t truly know what you can afford until you meet with a lender,” says Kang. In other words, just because you think you can buy a $1 million house doesn’t mean you can actually get a loan to purchase a home that nice.

Dumb reason No. 2: Using a fly-by-night mortgage lender

The mortgage industry is rife with scams—including a slew of fake or unreliable lenders. Placing your trust in a bad lender can cause a deal to fall through. That explains why “sometimes sellers reject offers because of the buyer’s lender,” says Philadelphia real estate agent Kathy Conway. To make sure your financing is rock-solid, ask your real estate agent for lender recommendations instead of, say, just Googling it. And read up to know your mortgage basics.

Dumb reason No. 3: Getting pre-qualified rather than pre-approved

Pre-qualification and pre-approval might sound similar, but they’re not. Essentially, anyone can get pre-qualified for a loan, because it only involves having a conversation with a lender about the state of your finances (no documents are exchanged). Getting pre-approved, meanwhile, involves the lender gathering all necessary documentation—your tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs, and more—packaging the loan, and submitting the file to an underwriter for review. If everything checks out, the lender will issue you a written commitment for financing up to a certain loan amount that’s good for up to 90 or 120 days.

When you submit an offer on a home, you’ll need to include a pre-approval letter from your lender, says Conway.

“Educated sellers won’t even entertain an offer unless the buyer has a letter of pre-approval” from a reliable lender, Conway says.

Dumb reason No. 4: Shopping outside your price range

“It sounds obvious, but some home buyers just have trouble sticking to a budget,” says Kang. Therefore, resist the temptation to shop online for homes that are simply outside your price range (i.e., how much you’ve been pre-approved for).

Dumb reason No. 5: Making lowball offers in a seller’s market

You need to rely on your real estate agent to determine whether a house that you’re interested in has a fair listing price. (Your agent will do this by performing a comparative market analysis, which entails looking at recently sold properties that are comparable to the house that’s up for sale.) If a home is priced well, it might make sense to offer full price, says Kang. Moreover, “if you’re in a seller’s market, making a crazy lowball offer can piss off the seller” and kill your offer, says Kang.

Dumb reason No. 6: Writing a bad personal letter to the seller

If you’re competing against other buyers, writing the seller a personal letter can help strengthen your offer. But Julie McDonough, a real estate agent in Southern California, says some home buyers are inclined to overshare, in which case a letter can actually hurt your offer.

“Stick to the fact that you love the house and the neighborhood,” says McDonough. “Don’t get into personal details” such as the fact that you’ve lost out on other homes or want to remodel the dated kitchen.

Dumb reason No. 7: Making a big purchase while in escrow

Some home buyers make the mistake of opening new credit accountswhile they’re in the process of buying a house. But purchasing a big-ticket item like a car or a boat while you’re buying a house can jeopardize your financing. Why? Because your mortgage lender’s underwriter is going to re-evaluate your finances and recheck your credit report shortly before closing in order to determine that you’re still able to qualify for the loan.

“Even buying a fridge can throw off your credit or debt-to-income ratio,” says Conway. Translation: Don’t make any big purchases until after you close on the house.

Dumb reason No. 8: Not budgeting for closing costs

If you don’t have enough cash to cover closing costs, you won’t make it to settlement; and if that’s the case, you could lose your earnest money deposit. Thus, make sure to get an estimate from your mortgage lender of what your closing costs will be before making an offer on a property (currently, this is legally required—just make sure to read it).

Closing costs vary widely by location, but they typically total 2% to 7% of the home’s purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs could come to $5,000 to $17,500. Both buyers and sellers usually pitch in on closing costs, but buyers shoulder the lion’s share of the load (3% to 4% of the home’s price) compared with sellers (1% to 3%), so you need to make sure you have enough cash on hand to pay your portion.

Article by Daniel Bortz


Do’s and Don’ts of Flooring

What to consider — from durability to style — for what’s under foot.

So many flooring choices, so little time to research which looks good, feels good, and lasts.

No worries. We’ve sorted it out for you with a handy do’s and don’ts list.


DO: Consider your home’s layout. Got an open floor plan? Using the same flooring throughout the space will create a clean, continuous appearance.

DON’T: Forget about your home’s architectural integrity. By all means, make your home a reflection of your personal style. (Get inspired by these super-cool floor ideas.) Just keep in mind that staying true to your home’s innate style will pay off when it’s time to sell.

Tip: Hardwood floors are the goof-proof option.

  • Hardwood is a win-win when it comes to architectural style. It’s equally at home in both classic and contemporary abodes. You and your eventual buyers will never regret the choice.
  • It’s practical and beautiful; hardwood is strong enough for kitchen duty, but adds a homey and classic touch.


DO: Keep your local climate in mind. Damp and humid weather can shorten a floor’s lifespan. For instance, hardwood can warp.

DON’T: Underestimate wear and tear depending on where you’re planning to install new flooring. Drop a glass jar on ceramic tile and it’ll chip; heavy foot traffic will beat up pretty plush carpeting.

Tip: Properly sealed, concrete floors are a tough and good-looking choice.

  • Concrete resists water, stains, smells, and scratches. It also won’t harbor mold or mildew.
  • It can take a pounding, so no worries there about daily wear and tear.
  • It packs an energy-saving benefit since concrete floors can retain your home’s heating and cooling.
  • The icing on the cake? It can be painted to look like wood or tile.

Comfort and Air Quality

DO: Consider comfortable flooring materials, especially in rooms where you spend a lot of time standing, such as the kitchen, and if you have small children or plan to age in place.

DON’T: Contribute to household air pollution. Both traditional vinyl flooring and newly installed carpets can emit high levels of VOCs for up to 72 hours.

Tip: Cork hits the comfort and environmental-friendly trifecta.

  • It’s a treat for feet (think kitchens) and can soften the blow when little ones fall (think basements, family rooms, kids’ rooms) thanks to microscopic air pockets that give the material its cushiness.
  • Cork is great for indoor health. It won’t hold on to dust and pollen and resists nasties like bacteria and fungi. When it comes to VOCs, go with low- or no-formaldehyde content and avoid cork-vinyl composites. How do you do that? Look for cork flooring products that are either Floorscore or Greenguard certified, or that qualify for a LEED point for low-emitting materials. Also, if you’re using a sealer or an adhesive select a low- or no-VOC product.
  • It’s sustainably harvested. Cork flooring is made from cork oak bark. Since the bark grows back, the tree is left standing.

Tip: You’ll want to seal cork every few years to help protect it from any standing water; it’s water resistant but not waterproof.

DO: Add carpet. It’s great for maximizing comfort, and it can cost much less than other types of flooring. For a 12-foot-by-12-foot room, you could expect to pay about $1,580 to $3,190 in materials and labor for hardwood versus $335 to $700 for carpet.

New fiber technologies have made carpet more durable (think longer wear and superior color-fastness), stain resistant, and even eco-friendly (some carpets are made from recycled materials, like plastic bottles, and natural fibers). The key is picking and maintaining the right carpet for your home and lifestyle. For example, a dense carpet with a short pile height (half an inch or less) is best for high-traffic areas.

DON’T: Think carpet is off the table because you have allergies.  Several studies suggest that carpet doesn’t cause allergies or make asthma worse.

  • Since carpet traps particulates, like dust and dander, it can act as a filter and bring relief to some people, according to a recent Spanish study.
  • Frequent vacuuming, using a doormat to eliminate the amount of dirt that comes into your home, and a yearly deep cleaning can keep your carpet in good shape for years to come while retaining good air quality.

How to Stop Your Dog From Digging In Your Yard

Don’t let your dog wreck your yard by digging up your lawn. Here are 5 foolproof ways to stop doggie destruction.

We love our dogs, but our yards don’t. Dogs dig up the lawn in a heartbeat, eager to bury a bone or chase a gopher, leaving gaping holes and piles of dirt.

Here’s how to keep your dog from digging up your yard. (If it’s your garden instead, here are tips on how to keep dogs out of your garden.)

1. Tire out your dog

A napping dog is not a digging dog, so exhaust your pet with regular walks and active play.

“Home owners with big yards think they can just open the back door and their dogs will be entertained,” says Tim Link, a dog expert and author of Wagging Tales.

“That’s boring for an animal,” says Link. “You have to mix it up. If a dog is stimulated, he’ll get into a lot less mischief.”

To activate your animal, try:

  • Hiding a favorite indoor toy outdoors so he can hunt for it.
  • Playing catch with a ball or Frisbee.
  • Taking her on frequent walks.
  • Setting up an agility course.

2. Offer a digging spot of his own

Dogs dig for thrills, for a cool place to lie down, and for a place to bury bones. It’s an instinctive behavior you can’t eliminate, but you can redirect it by building your pet a digging box.

It doesn’t have to be big – a shaded, 4-by-4-foot space will do. Fill it with sand, cat box filler, or wood chips. Then let your dog watch you bury a toy or treat in the box. When he goes after it, praise his efforts — dogs would rather be rewarded for digging in their box than scolded for digging in your garden.

3. Nix the bones

Instead of offering your dog a bone that he’ll want to hide in a hole, give your pet rawhide or veggie-based chews that he’ll eat rather than bury.

Also, buy your puppy a busy ball ($10-$15) that dispenses treats as he bats it around. It’s a challenge and exercise, which will keep your dog’s body and mind active.

4. Get rid of unwanted pests

Dogs often dig around fences and shrubs to hunt prey — such as rats, gophers, and moles. Beat him to the job by humanely getting rid of rodents. Don’t use poison to kill the critters, because it could kill your pet, too.

5. Keep your dog company

If you know your dog likes to dig or eat outdoors, don’t leave him unattended. Let him watch you plant your garden and explain what you’re doing and the behavior you expect.

Yep, your read that right.

Link says dogs understand and respond to human conversation, so long as it contains high praise and clear directions, and is followed by a reward for good behavior.

You might say, “Sebastian, you’re the best dog in the world, and I know you love to dig. But I don’t want you digging up the lawn and ruining our beautiful yard. Now, let’s get a treat.”


How to Choose New Windows and Not Worry You’re Wasting Money

Find out how much windows cost — and whether you really need to spend the dollars.

You knew your windows weren’t in the best shape when you bought your home, but now they’re really starting to get to you. They’re making your home look — and feel — well, dumpy.

Not only that, you feel drafts coming from your windows in winter, then they jam shut when summer rolls around. Talk about frustrating.

Maybe it’s finally time for new windows, but can you afford it? And what if you make a mistake that makes your house look even worse? It can, and does, happen.

“You put the wrong window in and, boy, it will stick out like a sore thumb.” That’s what window expert Larry Patterson, president of Glass Doctor of North Texas in Dallas, says.

Here’s how to choose new windows without making mistakes — and avoid spending money you don’t need to:

First Ask, “Do I Really Need New Windows?”

It may be that not replacing them is the smart thing to do, especially when you factor in the cost of new windows: $10,000 or more on the average home.

And while manufacturers may tout the energy savings new windows can provide, it could take yearsto recoup that 10 grand. The most significant energy savings you’d see is $583 annually (says the U.S. Energy Star program).

Do the math: It’ll take 17 years (!) for you to save enough to make up the cost. Perhaps a little window caulking and weatherstripping will do?

Related: Find Out If You’ll Save More By Repairing Rather Than Replacing

Even if your windows are broken or damaged, you might not need to buy new. Older wood windows can last more than 100 years (for real) because the old-growth wood used back then is super durable — still!

So in many cases, especially if your home has original windows, they may just need new glass or some simple repairs, which will save you a bundle.

But if your windows are a lost cause, and it really is time to replace them, here’s what to know:

How to Choose New Windows

For better or for worse, new windows can change the look of your entire home. Let’s aim for better, yes?

It starts with picking the right material, says Dan Bawden, president and CEO of Legal Eagle Contractors in Houston and chair of the National Association of Home Builders’ Remodelers group.

Vinyl windows might look fine on a Colonial house, but they would never work with a Tudor-style home, he says. That’s because wood trim is what makes a Tudor a Tudor (try saying that three times with a straight face, ha!).

“The windows need to match the quality and price point of the house,” says Bawden.

Choose From 5 Types of Window Materials

  • Wood — Very durable and energy efficient with classic good looks. Needs regular care (AKA painting).
  • Composite — Made of modern wood products such as particleboard. More resistant to moisture than wood.
  • Vinyl — Easy to maintain and affordable. The frame can be filled with fiberglass for more insulation.
  • Fiberglass — Very strong, sturdy. Can also be filled with insulation.
  • Aluminum — Probably the most affordable. Not good for energy savings in cold climates because it conducts heat.

You’ll probably hear about wood-clad windows, too. They’re real wood on the inside of your home, but vinyl, fiberglass, or aluminum on the exterior. Choosing wood-clad will add to the cost, but their easy-to-maintain classic style might make you overlook the bottom line.

Match Your Home’s Window Style

Of course, the material your windows are made of isn’t the decision you’ll have to make. Two more things help determine which style of window to choose:

  • Windows with grids or without?
  • Windows that open from the top, bottom, both — or side?

Windows with grids that divide the glass into what looks like smaller windows (really old, single-pane windows actually are made up of individual panes of glass held together by wooden grids) are the more traditional classic windows, while those without grids are more modern in style.

So a sleek, contemporary home would look just right with grid-less windows, but a red-brick 1800s Georgian would look near naked without grids on its windows.

The most common window-opening styles are:

  • Single-hung windows. Only the bottom opens. The least expensive option.
  • Double-hung windows. Both the top and bottom open. The most common and easiest to clean.
  • Sliding windows. They slide open to the left or right. Great for hard-to-reach places, like over the kitchen sink.
  • Casement windows. They crank open from the side, allowing more air in.

If you love a stiff breeze, casement windows could be your answer. “If you open that thing, it’s like an aircraft wing,” Patterson says.

Be Cautious About Add-Ons If You Want to Save Money

Like everything from cars to toothbrushes, windows can come with features ranging from standard to “OMG-why-would-you-need-that?!” Here are the most common ones with a little sensible advice about each:

Argon gas-filled windows

  • Can only be used with double-pane or triple-pane windows.
  • Save about $10 a year in energy, says “Consumer Reports.”
  • Cost about $30 to $40 per window, so they can be pricey.
  • Don’t work forever. The gas leaks out over time.

Triple-pane windows

  • Recommended only for extremely frigid climates.
  • Add about $100 to the cost of each window.

Impact-resistant glass windows

  • Are only necessary if you live in a hurricane-prone area.


  • Has an invisible coating that keeps the home cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • Helps prevent sunlight from fading your furnishings.
  • Can make your home seem dim inside if you opt for too much coating. If you pick 40% light transmittal versus 72%, “it’s significantly darker, and you’re going to notice that,” Patterson says.


  • It’s a rating (from 0.2 to 1.2) that measures a window’s insulation.
  • The lower the rating, the better.
  • Not usually worth the cost to pay for a rating below 0.3.

Tips for Choosing a Window Manufacturer and Installer

Quality naturally varies from brand to brand. Who can you trust?

Look for lifetime warranties and/or certifications from:

  • Energy Star
  • The National Fenestration Ratings Council
  • The American Window and Door Institute
  • The American Architectural Manufacturers Association

An expert installer may be even more important than choosing the window itself. A poor installation of a high-quality window will result in poor window performance. Read online reviews, ask for references, visit window showrooms, and ask about manufacturer certifications. And as always, consider multiple bids.

“Anyone can screw a window in,” Bawden says. “I want someone who really knows how to seal that window well.”


Dixie Chicken Salad with Grapes, Honey, Almonds, and Broccoli

This gorgeous salad features breaded chicken tossed with lettuce, broccoli, and grapes, and topped with almonds and a honey and Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

HANDS-ON TIME:  20 mins  ~  TOTAL TIME:  20 mins  ~  YIELD:  Makes 4 to 6 servings


  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 (4-oz.) chicken cutlets, 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 1/2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 (5-oz.) package spring lettuce mix
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup halved seedless red grapes
  • 1/2 cup halved seedless green grapes
  • 1/2 cup sliced honey-roasted almonds

How to Make It

  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Whisk together eggs and 3 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Dip chicken in egg mixture, and dredge in breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to adhere. Place on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until chicken is brown and done.

  2. Meanwhile, whisk together vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Toss together lettuce, broccoli, red grapes, and green grapes; season with salt and pepper. Top with chicken and sliced almonds; serve with vinaigrette.

A Financial Plan for Your Home

To manage your biggest asset, create a financial plan that covers repairs, upgrades, mortgages, insurance, and taxes.

Do you pay each home-related expense as it comes? If so, you’re missing opportunities for upgrades, or much worse, heading into a financial crisis when a slew of surprise maintenance items hit. So take a holistic look at what it costs to operate your house and set up a home financial plan.

Use our home financial plan budget worksheet, and start by writing a list of expenses, such as:

  • Mortgage
  • Taxes
  • Home insurance, including liability
  • Repairs and maintenance, such as new furnace, roof, painting
  • Voluntary upgrades, such as a swimming pool, a premium range, a new powder room

What Will You Learn From This Home Financial Plan Weekend Exercise?

  • How much you have to spend
  • How much you need to allot in the short- and long-term for necessary maintenance and voluntary improvements

With this newfound grip on your home’s expenses, you can create a home financial plan that’ll help you there for years with maximum enjoyment and minimum anxiety.

Here’s how to manage other aspects of your home finances:

The Mortgage: Pay It — and Then Some

Yup, you already shell out a lot for your mortgage, but can you pay more? Even a little extra each month can add up to an earlier payoff. Let’s say you have $200,000 in outstanding principal and a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5%. Your monthly payment is $1,319.91. But if you can manage to pay another $100 a month, you’ll save $14,887 in interest.

Run the numbers yourself for your home financial plan.

Advantages of an early payoff, says Alan D. Kahn, a financial planner in Syosset, N.Y.:

  • Less debt means more money to spend later.
  • It feels darn good to own your house outright as soon as possible.
  • Minimal tax loss. Toward the tail end of the life of a loan most of your payment goes to the principal, not the interest, so you’re getting only a small tax break anyway.

Of course, if you’re still saving for retirement, put the 100 bucks elsewhere:

  • A retirement plan
  • An account for the inevitable home repairs
  • An account for discretionary improvements, which can raise your home’s value

Insurance: Protect Your Property

Your vegetable garden is pointless without a fence to keep out rabbits; likewise, your home financial plan will come to nothing without an insurance “fence”:

Homeowner’s insurance. Basic coverage for your home and everything in it. The average cost is $636 per year but this varies widely by state.

Liability coverage. Protects you from a lawsuit if someone gets hurt on your property, for example. Your best bet: An umbrella policy.  For about $300 a year you can buy a typical $1 million policy.

Various disaster insurance policies. Optional policies cover flood, earthquake, and hurricane damage. As part of your home financial plan, you have to research to see what disaster coverage, if any, you need in your area, and what your standard policy already covers. For $540 a year you can buy flood insurance, for example.


Don’t Under- or Overbuy Insurance

For your basic policy, get homeowners insurance with full replacement coverage in case your house burns to the ground.

That sounds simple, but heads up on calculation. Remember that you own a house as well as the land on which it sits. So even though you bought your home for $300,000, it may cost only $100,000 to rebuild it. Your policy limits should reflect this. This difference will vary widely by region.

Another heads up: Don’t make the common and potentially disastrous mistake of thinking that because your home has fallen in value you need less insurance. If you bought a $1.2 million townhouse in Florida during the boom, it’s true it now may only sell for $600,000. But the replacement cost of the townhouse hasn’t changed much, so you can’t improve your home financial plan by cutting insurance costs that way.

Other ways to cut your insurance budget:

  • If you make structural improvements, such as adding storm shutters, your insurer may give you a break.
  • If you belong to certain groups, such as AARP or veterans’ organizations, your premiums may be lower.

Related: Homeowners Insurance: Are You Over- or Underinsured?

Repairs and Renovations: By Choice or Necessity

You own a home, so you’ll be spending money on everything from a new faucet to — surprise! — a new roof. Freddie Mac and other authorities say as part of your home financial plan, you should be prepared to spend 1% to 3% of the market value of the home annually on maintenance. To be extra-prudent, open a savings account and make regular payments until your account reaches 1% to 3% of your home’s current value.

To help you budget:

Start with the inspection report you received when you bought the house. Did the inspector indicate that you would need a new roof in five years? A new furnace in 10?

Keep a log of your major appliances’ age so you can estimate when they’ll need replacing. Some estimated life spans:

  • Roof: 20-25 years
  • Heating systems: 15-20 years
  • Range/ovens: 11-15 years
  • Water heaters: 8-13 years

Then get estimates on what replacements will cost and start saving.

Consider ongoing non-emergency maintenance, too. Do you live in New England? Price a snow blower and get bids from plow services.

Resist the siren call of the home equity loan to take care of everything. That just defeats your efforts to pay off the mortgage early.

Separate out what you want from what you need. Believe it or not, some outdoor projects recoup more at resale than a kitchen redo.

If you can afford to redo, go for it. Just don’t confuse your necessary repairs (new oil furnace — about $4,000) with your discretionary upgrades (Viking range — $6,000 and up).

Taxes: (Almost) No Way Around Them

Even if your lender handles your property taxes from an escrow account, you need to budget for them in your home financial plan. They creep up almost every year, it seems. Take responsibility for tracking the changes in your area: Look over past tax bills to get a sense of how quickly they’ve risen in the past.

Or if your lender handles escrow and you haven’t saved your bills, ask for an accounting. The median annual property tax payment is $1,812, but that hides the enormous range in medians from state to state.

You can generally deduct property taxes on your federal return. A tax pro can tell you how much of a tax break you’ll get, to help you fine-tune your home financial plan.

You may be able to reduce your tax burden by getting a reassessment. Do your homework first: Are comparable houses taxed less than yours? Ask the local assessor what formula is used to set tax rates. You can challenge the assessed value and get yourself a rollback.

If you’re in a special group, you might get some help from state or local programs. Check around to see what’s available in your area. New York State, for example, has its Star Program for giving senior citizens some relief from school-related property taxes.


7 Blazing-Hot Landscaping Trends That You Can Tap Into This Summer

Balancing trendy touches with classic appeal can be tricky in your home and even trickier in your outdoor spaces. After all, you can always repaint a wall, but no one wants to tear up their entire hedge every year.

Luckily for you, we consulted with experts on the top landscaping trends that homeowners are loving right now—and that won’t go out of style any time soon. So take a good look at your landscaping and decide whether it’s time for a revamp. If so, these tricks from the pros will keep your lawn and gardens looking cutting-edge all summer long—and maybe nextsummer, too.

1. Sustainability

Sustainability is by far the biggest trend in outdoor spaces these days—and you can implement it in your plant selections, hardscaping, and even lighting choices.

An easy way to make your lawn scream “sustainable”? Protect your pollinators.

“Creating pollinator-friendly gardens is something a lot of our professionals have been helping people with,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals. In fact, the 2017 Houzz Landscape Trends study found that interest in insect/bird-attractant and native plants is up since 2015.

Not sure where to start? Use a website such as Pollinator Partnership to figure out how to plant the best buffet for the bees in your region.

Then add eco-friendly features such as LED bulbs in pools, fountains, or other outdoor lighting. You can also take your green living to the next level by upcycling household goods into garden accessories.

Craig Jenkins-Sutton, co-founder of the urban landscape design firm Topiarius, recommends using an old paint can or toolbox as a planter or colander as a hanging basket.

“We also like to incorporate sustainable hardscape materials such as composite woods and turf stabilizers that limit the need or use of stone for driveways and terraces,” says Keith Williams, a partner at Nievera Williams.

2. Edible gardens

Once you’ve fed the hummingbirds, why not feed yourself? Edible gardensaren’t exactly a new phenomenon, but they’ve been making a comeback in recent years as homeowners realize the money they can save by growing their own veggies, fruits, and herbs, while embracing the very real health benefits.

“Locally grown food offers a safer food supply chain, and it’s full of flavor and contains high nutrient values,” Jenkins-Sutton says.

And you don’t need much space, either. Herbs such as bay, oregano, basil, chives, sage, and rosemary do well in summer heat and will thrive near a sunny windowsill. You can also plant edible gardens in containers on small patches of lawn, which will “provide those functional aspects and also beauty as well,” Henriksen adds.

3. Rocks

Ready to rock? Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, has noticed more customers asking for river rock in their landscaping and garden beds.

“It never has to be redressed or redone next season as it’s a one-time cost; it has a real return on investment,” Clayton says. “People are just tired of wasting money year after year on mulch, straw, or other organic materials to put in the gardens.”

The thing about rocks is they’re hardy—wind, rain, and other weather conditions aren’t going to wreak havoc on them. Plus, you can carry this concept into your plant selections as well.

Williams recommends “drought-tolerant, wind-tolerant, and low-maintenance plant materials to encourage a healthy ecosystem and provide aesthetic beauty to gardens.”

4. Hygge

Hygge, the Scandinavian lifestyle sensation that’s all about maximizing comfort, doesn’t just mean holing up inside with a fluffy blanket and a cup of tea. You can create coziness in your outdoor space, too—and feel more peaceful and connected year-round.

If you wish you had jumped aboard this trend, like, yesterday, it’s not too late. There’s still plenty of summer left to get your hygge on outside. Try adding a fire pit, water features, or a unique lighting design. Or you could simply arrange your furniture so that it’s more conducive to conversations.

5. Vivid colors

“My clients have been asking for brilliant summer colors from spring to frost,” says Steve Griggs, the owner of Steve Griggs Design. “These include knockout roses, endless summer hydrangeas, and new-wave petunias.“

There’s no need to despair if you have a small space. Jenkins-Sutton recommends shrubs such as the Little Ragu Sweet Bay, dwarf boxwoods, or a dwarf lilac tree.

If you’ve filled your plant quota and are still feeling insufficiently festive, consider adding some bold accent pieces.

“For pops of color, most people think of using flowering shrubs or vines for color in their gardens, and that is absolutely fine but not always dependable,” Williams says. “I like to use containers or planters as a constant color source. Outdoor fabrics and or umbrellas with colors and patterns are also a reliable option for bright colors.”

6. Shades of green

This one gives a new meaning to “going green.” We love that big, bold colors are in, but you can make just as much of a statement with variations of one color. Yep—green is in. (Just ask the folks at Pantone, who named “Greenery” the 2017 color of the year.)

“When you think of softscape or the plants that go in your landscape, we think of flowers or things that provide colors that pop, but we’re also seeing people using palettes of greens themselves,” Henriksen says. “We’re really seeing [greenery] at the forefront of the design industry and in landscape design as well. It can really create a very impactful design.”

Try using a variety of different shrubberies, textures, or patterns such as an ivy trellis or multilevel design.

7. Vertical gardens

Don’t have the square footage to put in a garden? Don’t feel down—look up! Vertical gardens have become the darling of homeowners who are cramped for space but want a fresh perspective.

“Vertical gardens are very, very popular right now, both indoors and outdoors,” Henriksen says.

You can go big or small with your living wall; just make sure you find the light and select the best plants to thrive.

Article by Rena Behar

4 Ways to Make Fido Happy in Your New Home

Your dog will lurve these features, which will look awesome in your home, too.

Life with pets: They frustrate you, they make things messy, but you can’t help loving them anyway.

After years of DIYing with the world’s greatest sidekick, who likes to be in on the action at all times (even when I’m on a ladder or using an air compressor), I tend to pause whenever I see a cool idea for making Charlie feel more at home among the chaos.

I have a long list of favorite ideas for pet-friendly home features, but these are at the top:

Pet Feeder

I used to think having a fancy food bowl setup was one of those nice-to-have things that I would get around to making for my pup eventually. But little did I realize, this was one of the more impactful tweaks I made this past year, and it really changed some of the everyday annoyances I’d been dealing with for years

Charlie had a long-standing habit of constantly flipping over her food bowl before eating, and I hated the way stray bits of food would wind up scattered across my floor in the process. But once I built her a food bowl stand that also fit my design style, it made the house so much cleaner.

It was like boom! She stopped flipping, and I stopped flipping out. I regret so much that I hadn’t done this sooner. There are lots of DIY feeder options out there, including ones that suspend from the wall, ones that include food storage below the bowls, or ones that look like mine — that just look pretty nice in the kitchen. 🙂

Outdoor Lounger

Now that I finally filled in my backyard this past year, I have lots of DIY outdoor projects on my task list. Adding one more: This DIY “dogzebo” from my friend at the “House of Wood” blog! I’m not sure I could get Charlie to sit still long enough to be my model like hers, but I know the perfect corner to add this.

Upgraded Gates

I used a retractable baby gate when Charlie was a pup. It was useful to help train her, but not all that aesthetically pleasing (nor was the linoleum floor she chewed up when she had to be kept in “puppy jail”).

If I could go back in time, I’d rather have had something that suits my style a little more, like this gorgeous custom-designed gate over at the “Yellow Brick Home” blog. Unfortunately, Charlie’s a little too big to be deterred by a gate anymore, but this would still be a great build for owners with small pets (like my parents’  … maybe next year’s Christmas gift?)

Dog Beds

Charlie has a bed of some sort in virtually every room of my house. She likes to follow me around no matter where I’m hanging out, and I like to have a place where she can be both comfortable and out of the way.

Still, though: Why do dog beds always have to be so ugly? I like the idea of making them more tied into furniture, such as with an ottoman or side table. That’s pretty much what Mindi from the “MyLove2Create” blog did with an old crib turned dog crate.

That wooden top is perfect for making it look like the rest of the furniture in her home.

Ultimately, it’s important to me to make Charlie feel just as at home in our shared space as I do. While some design choices are made just for me, I’ve learned that taking her needs into account can help us both in the long run — less clutter, fewer messes to clean up, and a house that can still be beautiful while addressing my biggest pain points of dog ownership vs. my design desires.

Win-win is always better, right? 🙂

Article by SARAH FOGLE

How to Remove Stains From Hardwood Floors

For many homeowners, keeping hardwood floors blemish-free can feel like a full-time job. When wine spills, permanent marker streaks, or other household disasters happen (and they will happen), knowing how to remove stains from hardwood floors is crucial.

Time is of the essence when it comes to getting rid of stains.

“Clean them up right away,” says Brett Miller, vice president of education and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association. “Then they won’t penetrate into the wood, when it’s most damaging.”

When simple spills happen on your hardwood floors, the first thing to do is wipe them up with a cloth dampened with water.

For tougher stains and marks that have sat for a while, you might have to eventually remove the stained boards, add new ones, and refinish the entire floor so old and new blend together—although that’s the worst-case scenario.

Before you call in the hardwood cavalry, be sure to try these time-tested stain solutions.


If you’ve just spilled some water, use a hair dryer on high setting to dry the area for about 15 minutes, or until any trace of the water is gone. If that doesn’t work, apply an oily substance such as petroleum jelly or mayonnaise (yes, mayonnaise) to the affected area and let it sit overnight. Wipe away the solution with a clean cotton cloth. The oil will restore some of the transparency (by filling some of the microscopic voids) of the stain, according to

Scuff marks

Technically scuff marks from furniture feet or sneakers are not actually stains, but they are a beast to remove. If wiping with a damp microfiber cloth doesn’t work, try erasing marks with a pencil eraser or a clean tennis ball, which uses slight friction to remove the stain. If there’s an actual scratch in the wood, cut or bite an almond in half and rub the meat part on the scratch. The oil from the almond should fill it in.

Pet urine

In the life of every pet, accidents happen. The trick is to sop up the mess before it soaks into the floor, and to treat the floor with one of the many “enzymatic” commercial sprays you can buy at pet supply stores. The enzymes will attach to and break down molecules that create odors.

Cat urine, which has a higher ammonia concentration than the canine variety, is particularly hard to get rid of, even with enzyme sprays.

“That smell will linger if it’s not addressed,” Miller says.

And if it soaks through the floor into the subflooring, well, you’re sunk. In that case, you’ll have to hire a company to remove the tainted floor and subflooring boards. This is probably not a DIY job, because blending old and new wood planks is an involved process, so you’ll want to consult a flooring professional.

Permanent marker

Don’t panic! You can remove errant Sharpie marks on hardwood floors with 90% isopropyl alcohol.

Pour the alcohol on a clean cloth and apply to the stain. Rub gently until the stain transfers from floor to cloth. To prevent a haze from forming, rinse the area with water and dry. If a haze does form, put a dab of olive oil on a cloth and rub; it should look as good as new.

If the alcohol method doesn’t work, put a dab of white (not gel) toothpaste on a clean cloth and rub out the stain. When the Sharpie mark disappears, wipe the spot with a damp cloth to remove the paste.

Assorted stains on dark hardwood

Olivia Joyce, who works for the Australian cleaning company Move Out Mates, uses a black tea solution to remove food and grease stains from medium-to-dark wood floors.

Steep five or six black tea bags in about a quart of water. When the tea cools, dampen a microfiber cloth with the tea and place on the stain for a minute, then wipe with a paper towel. Repeat until the stain disappears.

“The tannic acid in the black tea gently removes stains off the surface without damaging it,” Joyce says, “something chemical detergents wouldn’t be able to do.”

Article by Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Paleo Diet Food List

This is the definitive paleo diet food list. In it, you’ll find a list of the paleo diet meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and oils that are allowed on the paleo diet. You can throw these into any delicious paleo recipe(or make up your own) and be 100% sure that you’re paleo diet compliant :). Let’s get started.

For a quick “do eat” and “don’t eat” primer, see our quick reference guide below.


  • Grass-fed meats
  • Fish/seafood
  • Fresh fruits
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)


Get The Paleo Diet Food List Reference App

If you thought that was easy, what if you could have a paleo reference app in your pocket – so you knew WITHOUT A DOUBT – whether every food you put in your body was paleo or not.

paleo io apple
paleo io android

If you have more questions on specific foods, we’ve included a comprehensive list of paleo diet foods below. We’ve provided a list of the foods that are allowed on the paleo diet. We’ve also broken this list down into the specific food groups, so you can see which meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fats are on the paleo diet. In addition to all of that, we’ve also included a comprehensive list of foods not allowed on the paleo diet.

There’s often confusion about what falls where, so we’ve tried to clarify that as much as possible. You can click on the links below to jump directly to whichever section of the food list you’re interested in.

Good luck and happy eating!

Have a Bad Credit Score? It Could Soon Get Better—but Is It Enough to Buy a Home?

Have a bad credit score that’s keeping you from buying a home? You’re in luck: In July, credit reports are undergoing a major cleanup that could help.

Your credit report and score, of course, are scrutinized by lenders since they reveal how well you’ve paid off past debts. The problem? A Federal Trade Commission study found that 1 in 4 people spots errors on the report. Two areas that are notorious for being inaccurate are tax liens and civil judgments.

Basically, a tax lien means you haven’t paid your taxes; a civil judgment means a court has determined that you owe someone money. Understandably, when these blemishes pop up on your report, they make lenders leery. However, according to Eric J. Ellman, senior vice president for public policy and legal affairs at the Consumer Data Industry Association, as much as half of tax lien data is inaccurate or incomplete, missing key info like your name, address, Social Security number, or date of birth. And experts say civil judgments aren’t much better. So you might be getting dinged for these, even if it’s a case of mistaken identity, or you paid them off long ago.

While consumers can purge credit report errors by disputing them, the three largest credit-reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) have decided to pitch in to keep these errors from ever hitting your report in the first place.

Starting July 1, these three companies will start excluding tax lien and civil judgment records from credit reports if they’re lacking your name, address, Social Security number, or date of birth. Claims that have all this info will remain on credit reports; those that don’t, won’t.

The upshot? If you’re one of those unlucky people whose credit reports have been dogged by faulty tax liens or civil judgments, they could disappear—and your credit score might get a boost, no effort on your end required.

How much will credit scores rise?

Of the 200 million Americans with credit scores, about 12 million—or 6%—will see them rise in July once these incomplete tax liens and civil judgments are purged from their reports. But don’t get too excited; experts estimate that the effects on scores will be modest at best, with 11 million seeing an increase of 20 points or less.

Which begs the question: Will it be enough to make a difference?

That depends on what shape your credit’s in to begin with. Your credit score—which is calculated based on such factors as late or missing payments, amount of debt, and length of credit history—ranges from 300 to 850, and the higher the better. If you credit score is 760 or above, you’re in the best credit score range, which means you will have no problem qualifying for a loan, says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.” If, conversely, your credit score is 420, you’re considered a very high-risk applicant and probably won’t make the cut.

If you’re not sure what shape your credit is in, you’ll want to check your credit report. By law you’re entitled to a free copy of your report from each bureau once a year. You can request the reports through (Note: Your credit score is not included on your free reports, but you can order that for a small fee.)

How will this affect home buyers overall?

While 11 million consumers stand to receive a modest boost of up to 20 points to their credit score, the policy change might not be enough for allof them to qualify for a mortgage, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president at, a mortgage information website.

“A lot of people who have liens or judgments against them already have crummy credit to begin with,” says Gumbinger. Thus, “a 10- or 20-point increase isn’t going to make a difference for a lot of borrowers.” Moreover, some tax liens and civil judgments already meet the new reporting requirements. If that applies to you, your credit report isn’t going to improve—or if it did and you really are responsible for those black marks, they could reappear later once your accusers get the extra info they need.

Those who stand to benefit the most from the policy change, says Gumbinger, are borrowers who are on the cusp of qualifying for a home loan. For example, if you have a 570 credit score and receive a 10-point boost because tax liens or civil judgments are removed from your credit report, you might be able to qualify for an FHA loan, which requires a minimum 580 credit score. But the bad news for these consumers is that reporting agencies can refile tax lien and civil judgments to meet the new standards. In other words, “people’s tax liens and civil judgments may disappear temporarily, but many of them are going to come back again,” says Gumbinger.

Bottom line: While these new reporting standards for tax liens and civil judgments might help a small group of home buyers obtain mortgages who wouldn’t qualify otherwise, don’t pin your hopes on this change too much. Instead, consider it a wake-up call to check your credit report for errors and other blemishes—then take steps to raise your credit score.

Article by Daniel Bortz

How To Fight Back Against a Bad Contractor

Don’t take contractor abuse lying down. If your contractor has fouled up your home improvement project — or disappeared altogether — you have recourse.

We all know that remodeling can be a hassle. But occasionally a construction project turns into a total disaster and you end up at odds with your contractor — even though you thoroughly vetted the contractor and the remodeling contract before signing. Shoddy workmanship, unexplained delays, and amenities that never get installed can lead to frustration and anger.

Don’t get mad; get motivated to defend yourself. Here’s how.

Fire the Contractor

Firing your contractor may seem obvious, but it’s not an easy step when things go seriously wrong. Your contractor could challenge the firing in court as a breach of contract: You must show that he breached the contractor agreement first.

Document each time the contractor doesn’t live up to the specifics of the contract, such as substituting inferior materials or failing to stick to the schedule. Then send a return-receipt letter to her business and home address stating that unless the problem is rectified within a specified number of days, she’s in breach of contract, and you’ll be terminating it.

The catch: A contractor probably won’t refund money you’ve already paid. If you’ve written any checks up front, this tactic can be costly.

Request a Hearing

Some construction contracts include a binding arbitration clause, where parties agree to resolve disputes by arbitration rather than in court. Arbitration is a relatively low-cost process in which each side presents its case to an independent authority, who makes a final decision.

Even if your contract has no such provision, you can request a similar hearing. The Better Business Bureau, a national nonprofit association, offers mediation services for free or for a nominal fee of around $50. Neither the homeowner nor the contractor needs to be a member of the organization.

The catch(es):

  • You must get the contractor to agree to mediation. (Good luck!)
  • Mediators and arbitrators look to the contract for guidance. If you have a badly written one, you may be out of luck in mediation.

Hire an Attorney

Hire a construction attorney who knows the ins and outs of state statutes and can find weaknesses in the contract. Unlike Better Business Bureau hearings, the contractor can’t opt out of a lawsuit.

If the contractor has disappeared altogether, you may be able to collect money from a state contractor recovery fund consisting of contractor licensing fees, or from a bond the contractor posted at the start of your project, which is required in some states.

The catch: Attorneys charge $100-$300 per hour for these cases. So unless you’re dealing with a big-ticket project, you’ll likely spend more on the attorney than you will collect from the contractor.

Take Your Case to Small Claims Court

In small claims courts, you represent yourself and pay just a few dollars to bring a case. The rules depend on your local jurisdiction, but typically a judge hears from both parties, asks questions, and then resolves the issues.

The catch: Small claims are just that. In most places, award limits range from $3,000-$7,500. For example Kentucky has one of the smallest awards, capped at $2,500; in parts of Tennessee it’s highest, with a max of $25,000.

File Complaints and Bad Reviews

A slew of websites allow you to post information about bad contractors, including and (for certain cities). You can also file a complaint with your state contractor licensing board, which could make the information public if it receives enough complaints. (Search online by “contractor licensing board” for your state.)

These steps won’t fix your crooked tile, but you may take comfort in knowing that you’ve protected a fellow homeowner from the same fate.

The catch: A contractor could sue you for libel over a bad review. State laws vary, but truth is a strong defense, says Atlanta attorney Alan Begner, a board member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association. Still, a big contractor with deep pockets could force you to spend tens of thousands in your own defense.

To decide how — and whether — to go after your contractor, ask a construction attorney to review your situation. You’ll pay between $500-$1,000 for a consultation, but you could save far more money (and aggravation) in the long run.


Coconut Chicken-PALEO

Recipe makes 4 servings.
Approximate Cook Time: 20 minutes


1 pound(s) chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1/4 cup(s) almond flour
1/4 cup(s) coconut, unsweetened shredded
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt
1 large egg(s)
2 tablespoon(s) coconut oil


  1. Mix almond flour, shredded coconut and sea salt together in a bowl.
  2. Beat egg in separate bowl.
  3. Dip chicken breast in egg and roll in dry mixture.
  4. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add coconut oil when hot.
  5. Pan fry chicken until fully cooked. If the crust starts to brown and your chicken isn’t fully cooked yet (this will depend on the size of the chicken breast), take it out of the pan and place it in the oven on a baking sheet at 350 F for 5-10 minutes covered with foil.

Red, White, and Blue Outdoor Decor

When it comes to 4th of July yard decorations, you can’t beat a classic. “Being patriotic is more than just the Fourth of July,” says garden designer Jon Carloftis. “There is nothing more beautiful than an American flag hanging on the side of a barn or off the corner of the house.”

How to Display the Flag

Show patriotism by displaying the American flag this 4th of July. We have all the information you need to display flags, observe flag holidays, practice flag etiquette, and treat Old Glory with the respect she deserves.

Flying the stars and stripes for the first time? Check out our list of dos and don’ts when learning how to display the American flag on a house, boat, or car. These tips from the Federal Flag Code—which serves as a guide for civilians and civilian groups—will help you show the proper respect for Old Glory. As with any sort of etiquette, compliance is voluntary but suggested.

  • Display the flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and outdoor stationary flagstaffs. The flag can be displayed 24 hours a day if the flag is illuminated during the hours of darkness.
  • Pay attention to the position of the union (the blue field). When projecting horizontally or at an angle from a windowsill or front of a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff, unless the flag is at half-staff. When displayed against a wall or in a window, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s right.
  • Occasionally, the flag is flown at half-staff by order of the President, customarily upon the death of prominent members of the government as a mark of respect to their memory. When flown at half-staff, the flag should be raised to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. Just before the flag is lowered for the day, the flag should once again be momentarily hoisted to the peak. To position the flag at half-staff, place the flag one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.
  • If you have a 48-star flag or another historic U.S. flag, you may display it with pride. The 50-star flag is the official flag of the U.S. as designated by President Eisenhower in 1959. There are many historic U.S. flags and, according to tradition, they may be displayed as long as they are in good condition. Historic U.S. flags should be treated with the same respect and rituals as the official flag.
  • You can place a symbolic finial on your flagstaff. Finials for flagstaffs are not mentioned in the Flag Code but, by implication, they are acceptable. The President, the Vice President, and many federal agencies use an eagle finial.
  • An indoor flag may have a fringe (a fringe on an outdoor flag would deteriorate too quickly).
  • To display the flag on a car, the staff should be attached to the chassis or the right fender.
  • Unless you have an all-weather flag (frequently made of nylon, polyester, or treated cotton), the flag should not be displayed during inclement weather.
  • Never display the flag with the union (blue field) down, except as a signal of extreme distress, as in danger to life or property.

Respecting the Flag

  • Do not place the flag over the hood, top, sides, or back of any vehicle, including a train or boat.
  • Neither the flag nor any part of the flag may be used as a costume or athletic uniform.
  • Never use the flag for apparel, bedding, or drapery.
  • Never use the flag as a covering for a ceiling.
  • No mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing can be placed on the flag or any part of the flag.
  • The flag must never be used for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • Never use the flag for advertising in any manner. Advertising signs should not be attached to the flag’s staff or halyard (the rope used to hoist the flag).
  • No items that are intended for temporary use should be adorned with the flag. The flag should not be embroidered, printed, or embossed on cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything that will be discarded.

More Flag Etiquette

  • Dispose of a flag that is frayed, tattered, or otherwise inappropriate for display. The flag should be destroyed in a respectful manner, preferably by burning, according to U.S. Code, Title 36, Section 176k, Respect for Flag.
  • For other patriotic decoration, bunting of blue, white, and red (always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below), should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping in front of a platform, and decorating general interior or exterior spaces. Available as ornamental banners, in fans, and by the bolt, the bunting comes in traditional cotton, easy care cotton/poly, and convenient plastic.
  • On a float in a parade, the flag may only be displayed from a staff.
  • A flag patch may be attached only to the uniforms of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations.
  • Position a lapel flag pin on the left lapel, near the heart.
  • The flag should not be allowed to touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, floor, water, or merchandise.
  • Always carry our flag aloft and floating free, never flat or horizontally.
  • The flag must always fall free and must never be festooned, drawn back or up, or in folds.
  • Protect your flag—make sure that she is not displayed or stored in a way that would allow the flag to be torn, soiled, or otherwise damaged.